Echo by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Echo by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersClosing out the century with their tenth studio album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers blended folk/rock arrangements with introspective lyrical themes on Echo. The album’s tracks were composed and produced in the wake of Tom Petty‘s divorce from his wife of two decades and his own subsequent bought of depression and the isolation of living alone in a cabin. Petty stated that in this era he didn’t see a lot of people because he wasn’t happy and “didn’t want to lay that on everybody”.

Prior to Echo, Petty had been on a decade-long streak of commercial and critical success. In 1988 he became a member of the impromptu super group The Traveling Wilburys, immediately followed by the phenomenal success of Petty’s 1989 debut solo record, Full Moon Fever. In the 1990s, Petty alternated albums between the Heartbreakers (Into the Great Wide Open in 1991 and She’s the One in 1996) and solo (Wildflowers in 1994), all of which achieved great success in charting and airplay. During this era, the group also released a 1993 Greatest Hits compilation, which reached number 1 on the album charts and went Platinum a dozen times over, as well as Playback, a 1995 six-disc box set.

Echo was produced by Rick Rubin and recorded over the span of 1997 and 1998. Rubin had previously produced Wildflowers and She’s the One and had enlisted the Heartbreakers in backing up the legendary Johnny Cash on his 1996 album , Unchained.


Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Released: April 13, 1999 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell & Rick Rubin
Recorded: 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Room at the Top
Counting on You
Free Girl Now
Lonesome Sundown
Swingin’
Accused of Love
Echo
Won’t Last Long
Billy the Kid
I Don’t Wanna Fight
This One’s for Me
No More
About to Give Out
Rhino Skin
One More Day, One More Night
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Vocals
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Howie Epstein – Bass, Vocals
Steve Ferrone – Drums
 
Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

At over an hour of running time, Echo is a 15-song album with the length of a traditional double LP. It is book-ended by tracks which share the common theme of isolation and observation. The opening “Room at the Top” is a melancholy lament of lost love which Petty later described as one of the most depressing songs in rock history”. The closing “One More Day, One More Night” is a bluesy ballad which concludes with Mike Campbell‘s understated blues rock guitar lead. In between these two tracks is an ebb-and-flow of songs of high and low moods and arrangements.

“Counting on You” is a crisp folk-rock track with a fine rotation of sonic ear candy including piercing guitar licks, electric piano and slight fiddle. Harkening back to the group’s late seventies post-punk era, “Free Girl Now” is an upbeat rocker which comes down for a cool third verse with picked electric guitar and choppy organ by Benmont Tench. This song was the lead single from the album and it reached the Top 10 the Mainstream Rock charts. Tench’s country-esque piano introduces the ballad “Lonesome Sundown” which hits some nice chords and features Petty’s vocals at top notch, hitting some of the higher notes in his range. The next track, “Swingin'” is a fine example of Petty’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s style, while “Accused of Love” is a bright and upbeat acoustic pop song. The title track, “Echo” is a sad acoustic ballad driven by Petty’s melancholy lyrics.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The album’s latter half features some of its more interesting tunes, “Won’t Last Long” features a blend of driving, double strummed acoustic guitars in the verse and complex vocals patterns in the chorus along with a mid section where everything come down to reveal a subtle, penny-whistle organ. The acoustic “Billy the Kid” is topped off by tremolo guitar and backed with strong drum beat by Steve Ferrone, the newest member of the Heartbreakers. Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Fight” is a unique song in the Heartbreaker’s catalog, as this quasi-punk hard rocker is the only one to feature a lead vocal from someone other than Petty, while “This One’s for Me” is a bright and melodic ode to self interest. The sad but beautiful ballad “No More” features strings, percussion and other sweet instrumentation and effects in the arrangement, as the mood comes back up on “About to Give Out”, featuring a country-boogie piano lead by Tench. The album climaxes with the profound “Rhino Skin”, with the sharp lyrics accompanied by deadened guitar accompanied by a moody string arrangement and Howie Epstein‘s sharp bass rhythms.

Sadly, Echo would be the final album Heartbreakers’ album to feature Epstein,, who died in 2003 from a heroin overdose. Due to the painful memories associated with this album, Petty did not listen to this album for many years after its release, but was pleasantly surprised by its quality when his wife insisted they listen to during a long drive together.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Crimson and Clover by
Tommy James & the Shondells

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Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the ShondellsTommy James and the Shondells hit their creative and commercial climax  in 1969 with their sixth studio album, Crimson and Clover. This album combines some heavy psychedelic elements with the group’s core pop/R&B sensibilities for a potent cross-section of authentic fine sixties music. Crimson and Clover is also the first album in which the group’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Tommy James, played a large part in composing the bulk of the material.

The group’s roots stretch back a decade to 1959 in Michigan, when a 12-year-old James formed Tom and the Tornadoes, with the group releasing its first single, “Long Pony Tail”, in 1962. James renamed the band the Shondells in 1964 when they recorded the single “Hanky Panky” for local label Snap Records, which was a modest local hit in the Midwest but not big enough to keep the original Shondells together past high school graduation. The following year, a Pittsburgh dance promoter discovered the single and played it at various events and on radio stations, generating enough interest to attract James to play shows in Western Pennsylvania. A second version of the backing band was recruited in Greensburg, PA, including keyboardist Ron Rosman and bassist Mike Vale.

With this new touring group, James made a deal with Roulette Records to receive national promotion, which drove “Hanky Panky” to number 1 on the pop charts in July 1966. More success quickly followed, including the Top Ten hits “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1967), “Mirage” (1968) and “Mony Mony” (1968), all of which were penned by outside writers. In late 1968, the group was given artistic control by Roulette and decided to take a new direction by writing their own songs and self-producing their next album, Crimson and Clover.


Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells
Released: January, 1969 (Roulette)
Produced by: Tommy James and the Shondells
Recorded: 1968
Side One Side Two
Crimson and Clover
Kathleen McArthur
I’m a Tangerine
Do Something to Me
Crystal Blue Persuasion
Sugar on Sunday
Breakaway
Smokey Roads
I’m Alive
Group Musicians
Tommy James – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eddie Gray – Guitars, Vocals
Ron Rosman – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Vale – Bass, Vocals
Peter Lucia – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by drummer Peter Lucia, the album’s opening title track is a juxtaposition of James soulful vocals and the heavily treated tremolo guitar effect. This sets the stage for the overall vibe of “Crimson and Clover”, which was recorded by James, Vale and Lucia as an intended single, released ahead of the album in late 1968 and topped the US pop charts in February 1969. The song was also a hit internationally, reaching number one in six other nations. The next track, “Kathleen McArthur”, is an English folk style tune complete with harpsichord, flute and lyrics about a servant falling secretly for the daughter of his aristocratic employer, while “I’m a Tangerine” appears to be an overt attempt at psychedelic pop with strong influence from early Pink Floyd.

“Do Something to Me” is the album’s only cover track but this Top 40 hit takes a refreshing turn back to straight-forward rock n’ roll with an Elvis inspired revival complete with a “fake” live audience reaction such as whistling, hooting and hollering. The album’s best overall song is “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, co-written by guitarist Eddie Gray, features a unique and excellent blend of psychedelic guitar, soul bass, hand percussion, flamenco acoustic and melodic vocals. Later on Vale’s bass leads into a key change upward that completes this song as a classic,which made it to #2 on the charts.

Tommy James and the Shondells

The rest of the album features a diverse set of interesting songs. “Sugar on Sunday” dips back into the psychedelic bubblegum, although this one does have some interesting elements, with an almost Gospel-like feel from the backing vocals. “Breakaway” is harder rock and experimental with a combination of fuzz guitar and basic soul piano providing dueling arrangements and a slight mid section led by bass. Backwards-masked spoken vocals leads to the ballad “Smokey Roads”, featuring some interesting drum transitions by Lucia, while “I’m Alive” features sharp guitars that break through the thumping rhythms and is thematically celebratory. The album concludes with an alternate take of the title track’s coda section to bring it all full circle.

In the year it was released, Crimson and Clover reached the Top 10 of the album charts and maintained its esteem through the next half century. However, the group did not persist much longer, as the Shondells disbanded in early 1970 when Tommy James collapsed after a show and was initially pronounced dead. He did recover and launched a solo career shortly after.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

 

The Badlees 1999 albums

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Buy Up There Down Here

The Badlees 1999 albumsIn the mid 1990s, The Badlees were a fast rising group, newly signed to major label Polydor and with a national selling album that spawned a couple of mainstream hits. There was great anticipation for a follow-up by this Pennsylvania based folk rock band and recording for Up There, Down Here, anticipated for release in late 1997, was completed on time. However, some corporate entanglement brought on by rapid changes in the traditional music industry caused several delays in releasing the album until, ultimately, the group made a brash decision to put the music itself ahead of the label concerns. In early 1999, the Badlees independently produced and released a wholly separate album, Amazing Grace, which caused Polydor to immediately sever ties with the group. A few months later, the group signed with Ark 21 Records and finally released Up There, Down Here, meaning the space between the group’s fourth and fifth albums was just four months while it had been over four years between their third and fourth LPs.

That third album, 1995’s River Songs was originally released independently but then re-released internationally following the group’s record deal. The group toured relentlessly in support of the album, opening up for several major acts through 1995 and 1996. The following year, the group turned their attention to writing and recording material for their next album, a second national release on Polydor that was originally slated for late 1997 but soon pushed moved back to a planned February 1998 release. Recording took place at Bearsville Recording Studio near Woodstock, New York with producer Joe Alexander for the album that would ultimately be titled Up There, Down Here. Guitarist Bret Alexander and bassist Paul Smith added some overdubs and did some mixing at Alexander’s home studio in Pennsylvania in time for the anticipated February release. However, the date of album release got pushed back three more times, the final time to “date uncertain”. Still under contract and restricted in the actions they could take to further their career, the group requested and received permission to release a 5-song “unplugged” EP called The Day’s Parade in July 1998.

The quickly recorded and unplanned release of the EP was confusing to the Badlees fans and critics alike, who were expecting a new full length production and didn’t know about the corporate wrangling going on behind the scenes. The band was confused as well, as an already-bought-and-paid for high-end production remained on the shelf through late 1998 and into 1999. After several inquiries were ignored by the label, they decided to simply start from scratch with a new full-length album independently produced without consent or input from the label.

Amazing Grace Up There, Down Here
Released: April 2, 1999 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: Bret Alexander
Recorded: Bret Alexander’s Studio, Wapwallopen, PA, Early 1999
Released: August 24, 1999 (Ark 21)
Produced by: Joe Alexander & The Badlees
Recorded: Bearsville Recording Studio, Bearsville, NY, 1997
I’m Not Here Anymore
Long Goodnight
Poison Ivy
Ain’t No Man
Amazing Grace to You
Beyond These Walls
Time Turns Around
Appalachian Scream
A Fever
Gone
In a Minor Way”
Don’t Let Me Hide
Luther’s Window
Thinking in Ways
Which One of You
Little Hell
34 Winters
Middle of the Busiest Road
Cellarbird & Zither
Running Up That Hill
Love All
Silly Little Man
The Second Coming of Chris
A Little Faith
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Pete Palladino – Vocals, Harmonica
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro, Dulcimer, Banjo, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Simasek – Drums, Percussion

 

Amazing Grace was recorded, mixed, mastered, and pressed in just two months at Alexander’s home studio and it features the most diverse array of songwriting and styles of any Badlees’ album. It also features lead vocals by four of the five group members, a strong departure from all previous material where vocalist Pete Palladino sang lead on nearly all previous songs.

Amazing Grace by The BadleesPalladino does provide vocals on the sad and melancholy opener, “I’m Not Here Anymore”, where Alexander accents the mood with a whiny guitar and subtle piano riff. “Long Goodnight” is one of two songs on the album written by Smith. This fast-paced, upbeat, catchy rocker, would soon become a crowd favorite at shows and got some regional airplay. Smith’s other contribution is the soulful “Ain’t No Man”, featuring creative drums and percussion by Ron Simasek and lead vocals by the bassist himself.

The catchy “Poison Ivy” is the first of several showcases by Alexander. Led by a banjo riff, the music moves briskly while the harsh words speak of dealing with a toxic personality. The title track “Amazing Grace to You” is the most inventive and rewarding track on the album with wild, spoken word verses accompanied by wild and unruly guitars, a Hammond organ by guest Robert Scott Richardson and a tense 5/4 time signature by Simasek which breaks free for Alexander’s desperate wailing during the choruses.

The rest of Amazing Grace features a diverse array of short songs. “Beyond These Walls” is a classic Badlees pop rocker, while “Time Turns Around” is a distinct jazzy ballad led by Alexander’s crooning vocals. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger composed and took lead vocals on the blue-grass tinged “Appalachian Scream”, followed by the subtle beauty of “A Fever”, co-written by Palladino and long time band collaborator Mike Naydock. The album wraps with two more Alexander-led tunes, the slightly psychedelic ballad “Gone” and the Tom-Petty-esque rocker “In a Minor Way”.

The Badlees in 1999

Amazing Grace was released on the band’s independent Rite-Off label on April 2, 1999 and the Badlees were dropped from Polydor on that very day. Alexander referred to this as the Badlees “White Album” because of its eclectic styles and diversity of voices. At the time, it was assumed that the recordings for Up There, Down Here were casualties of the move. However, some other personnel from Polydor were now at a new label called Ark 21, owned by Miles Copeland, who had previously co-founded I.R.S. Records and by May 1999 a deal was in place for the Badlees and their nearly two-year old record, with the provision that they would stop any promotion of their recently-released Amazing Grace album.

Up There Down Here by The BadleesThe opening track on Up There, Down Here, “Don’t Let Me Hide” is the highest quality and most well-known song on the album, with a profound lyric, subtle, moody guitars and excellent high harmonies that complement the strong lead vocals of Palladino. “Luther’s Window” follows with interesting musical changes and lyrics about examining different perspectives;

Turn your back to the sun, you see only shadows, look beneath the stars and you see only night…”

The beautifully atmospheric “Thinking in Ways” features fine orchestration, precise yet intricate drumming by Simasek and subject matter which may refer to a prepaid funeral? This followed by a trio of catchy, pop-oriented tunes, “Which One of You”, “Little Hell” and “Middle of the Busiest Road”. Feltenberger’s “34 Winters” is another beautiful but melancholy song with Jeff providing some fantastic vocal trade-offs between himself and Palladino. After Alexander’s interesting but odd instrumental “Cellarbird & Zither” comes the darkly inspirational “Running Up That Hill” and the catchy “Love All”. The album concludes with three interesting tracks, the Beatle-influenced “Silly Little Man” with great drums and guitars, the mechanical and quirky “The Second Coming of Chris”, and stripped-down acoustic ballad, “A Little Faith”, a nice break on this otherwise richly produced album.

With the album that the band had prepared for and worked on for nearly half a decade finally released in August 1999, the Badlees were once again disappointed when Ark 21 was unable to help promote the record nationally. The label soon declared bankruptcy and the group returned to their roots as an independent band as they continued off and on for the next decade and a half.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Supernatural by Santana

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Supernatural by SantanaThe amazing thing about Supernatural is how popular and commercially successful it became in spite of its plethora of styles, multiple lead vocalists and bi-lingual lyrical content. Released in 1999, this was the eighteenth studio album by Santana, the Latin-style rock project led by guitarist Carlos Santana.  It was, by far, Santana’s biggest commercial success, selling about 30 million copies worldwide and topping the album charts in eleven countries, including a total of twelve weeks at #1 in the US.

By the time of Supernatural‘s production, Santana already had a career that spanned over thirty years, commencing in the mid sixties with spurts of innovation, commercial success, experimentation, decline and hiatus. In 1991, Santana’s record deal with Columbia Records came to an end and subsequent albums on the Polydor/Island labels did not fare well commercially. However, Carlos Santana’s involvement in a 1995 documentary about executive and Arista Records founder Clive Davis (who was at Columbia when Santana was first signed in 1969), led to a deal with Arista.

Supernatural was forged with a desire to produce more radio friendly songs and its sound is a blend of elements that combine “vintage Santana” with contemporary influences from several genres. Along with the plethora of guest performing artists, the twelve original album tracks were put together by a total of thirteen co-producers.


Supernatural by Santana
Released: June 15, 1999 (Arista)
Produced by: Carlos Santana, Clive Davis, Jerry Duplessis, The Dust Brothers, Alex González, Charles Goodan, Lauryn Hill, Art Hodge, Wyclef Jean, K.C. Porter, Dante Ross, Matt Serletic & Stephen Harris
Recorded: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA, 1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
(Da Le) Yaleo
Love of My Life
Put Your Lights On
Africa Bamba
Smooth
Do You Like the Way
Maria Maria
Migra
Corazón Espinado
Wishing It Was
Primavera
The Calling
Carlos Santana – Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Chester D. Thompson – Keyboards
Benny Rietveld – Bass
Rodney Holmes – Drums

 
Supernatural by Santana

 

 

The opener “(Da Le) Yaleo” is a Spanish language song that delves right in with the Carlos Santana signature guitar lead over the fine Latin percussion, with “Love of My Life” instantly changing direction. This second track is driven by the drums of Carter Beauford and topped by a smooth, jazzy arrangement with long, serene keys and good vocals by co-writer and lead vocalist Dave Matthews. The acoustic ballad “Put Your Lights On” slowly builds in arrangement with lyrics of existentialism by Everlast, ultimately making this a minor hit single. “Africa Bamba” follows and features acoustic and electric lead guitars for nice atmosphere.

By far the most popular single from Supernatural was “Smooth”, co-written by Itaal Shur and Rob Thomas and featuring Thomas on lead vocals. The track opens with a definitive Santana lead but eases into a groove of fine rhythms, proficient horn accents, enhanced vocals and overall great production. “Smooth” topped the pop charts (having the distinction of being the number one song when the century ended) and, ultimately, won three Grammy Awards. The next couple tracks have a definitive R&B vibe, Lauryn Hill‘s hip hop leaning “Do You Like the Way” and “Maria Maria”, another chart-topping and Grammy winning tune produced by Wyclef Jean and Jerry Duplessis.

Santana in 1999

The album’s second half, while still entertaining, features more repetitive and less groundbreaking songs. “Corazón Espinado” is almost like a Spanish language counterpart to “Smooth”, highlighted by Karl Perazzo on timbales, as “Wishing It Was” is another jazzy Latin ballad, featuring Eagle-Eye Cherry on vocals. The instrumental “El Farol” has plenty of atmosphere to tease out the beauty of Santana’s lead guitar, while “Primavera” is a standard Latin pop track. A highlight of this section of the album is “Migra”, driven by a strong drum beat and wild electric lead throughout, finding space between each vocal track, along with an excellent accordion by K.C. Porter and harmonized trumpets and trombones. “The Calling” is the original album closer, featuring Eric Clapton and starting with a long, Miles Davis like improvised section with Clapton and Santana trading guitar licks before the song proper of electronic drums backing a Gospel-like rendition with vocals by Tony Lindsay and Jeanie Tracy. Hidden within the track is “Day of Celebration”, a shuffle rhythmically, but it maintains a similar Gospel feel of uplift.

At nearly 75 minutes in length, the 1999 original version was a monster-size listening experience in of itself. However, the 2010 Legacy Edition added a second disc of outtakes, remixes and covers, clocking in at over two hours in total length of music. Supernatural went on to win nine Grammy Awards as an album and it sustained its popularity to the degree that it was the the ninth best-selling album of the decade of 2000s, despite being officially released in the 1990s. The album also gave Santana a unique entry into the Guinness book of World Records, as his previous number one album was Santana III in 1971, making the 28 year gap between number one albums for an artist the longest in history.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Dosage by Collective Soul

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Dosage by Collective SoulCollective Soul finished their nineties output by making a return to the mid nineties sound that brought their greatest success. In early 1999, the group released their fourth album, Dosage, with both a step back towards familiar styles and some addition of slight sophistication in the song composition and arrangement. The results of this strategy were somewhat mixed as the album was not quite as successful commercially as past releases, but it did pose as a bit of a comeback critically.

Collective Soul was formed after the production of a high quality demo by guitarist/vocalist Ed Roland made some serious waves, eventually becoming the group’s 1993 debut, Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid. Collective Soul’s self-titled sophomore record became their pinnacle of success, spawning several radio hits and spending over a year on the album charts. However, 1997’s Disciplined Breakdown, which followed a split with management and some legal wranglings, fared significantly lower critically and commercially.

Roland produced Dosage and derived the title from a common catchphrase the group used to describe burnout from touring. The album was meticulously recorded in Atlanta and Miami over a six-month period in 1998 and was the first to feature keyboardist and orchestra arranger Anthony Resta, who played a significant role in forging this record’s sound.


Dosage by Collective Soul
Released: February 9, 1999 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Ed Roland
Recorded: Tree Studios, Atlanta & Criteria Studios, Miami, 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Tremble for My Beloved
Heavy
No More, No Less
Needs
Slow
Dandy Life
Run
Generate
Compliment
Not the One
Crown
Ed Roland – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Ross Childress – Guitars, Vocals
Dean Roland – Guitars
Anthony J. Resta – Keyboards
Will Turpin – Bass, Vocals
Shane Evans – Drums, PercussionDosage by Collective Soul

 

 

The album’s opening track, “Tremble for My Beloved”, was also one of the first songs written for the album. Ironically, this would take nearly a decade to find widespread fame after it was featured in the 2008 film Twilight. “Heavy” was a more immediate hit, as rose to the top of the Mainstream Rock Tracks for nearly four months in 1999. With a theme about outside pressure, “Heavy” features a catchy guitar riff and fine lead by Ross Childress. The intro to “No More, No Less” is driven by electronic percussive effects along with fine bass riff by Will Turpin, while “Needs” starts with finger picked acoustic and strings and picks up intensity from there.

“Slow” was co-written by Ed’s brother and band guitarist Dean Roland, featuring a wild main riff with barked out vocals during the verses, making this tune very catchy and entertaining overall. Conversely, “Dandy Life” was penned by Childress, who also takes over lead vocals on this sticky-sweet dance-styled pop tune. The hit track “Run” follows, featuring steady acoustic strumming guided by piano leads and a strong but short guitar lead.

Collective Soul

As the album winds down there are a few more interesting moments. The synth-driven track “Generate” features an odd-time percussive effect and a very mechanical vibe throughout, making this unique on the album and one of the better tracks on it’s latter half. “Compliment” starts with cool synth arpeggio before breaking into a standard moderate rocker, much the same as “Not the One”, a ballad driven by the steady beat of drummer Shane Evans. “Crown” is the last official track as a slow and methodical acoustic ballad with plenty of electronic décor and a fine guitar lead. After this fades and about a minute of silence, the “hidden” track “She Said” kicks in as a quality song with nice, alternating use of synths in chorus.

Dosage peaked at near the Top 20 on the Billboard albums chart, making it a moderate overall hit for Collective Soul. This album would find temporary new life in 2012 when the group performed the album in its entirety during their “Dosage” tour.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Skid Row

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This album review is provided by Merry Mercurial, a writer of fiction, essays, reviews, and the “highly subjective” music blog, The Music According to Merry.

Skid RowEvery bit as fun as candy cigarettes, if not as addictive as the nicotine-laced real deals, Skid Row released their self-titled debut album on January 24, 1989. From the beginning, the biggest criticism leveled against the band was the extent to which they blended in with the big-hair, big-chants, “Big Guns” era of metal at the turn of the ’90s. They weren’t here to reinvent pop-metal. They didn’t offer some special recipe inimitable by the likes of Bon Jovi or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Rock purists who considered the genre transgressive, or at least inventive, by nature weren’t forgiving to Skid Row—to many, the band was a formula filler.

  • The feathery blond hair that shimmied perfectly under stage lighting to the radio-friendly thump of “Shake, shake—shake it like a rattlesnake.”
  • The leather.
  • The decade-appropriate guitar distortion and solos.
  • The earnest, angsty, but ultimately good-guy anthems from the POV of, well, youth gone wild. Their very song titles seemed borrowed from a manual called Getting by in Glam Metal.

If there’s one reason Skid Row broke free of the pack, it was a tall, Bahamian-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter named Sebastian.
As lead vocalist of the band starting in ’87, Sebastian Bach knew how to accentuate simple phrases (like the “Hey, man!” of “Youth Gone Wild”) in a way that hinted at history and place—this wasn’t someone who’d scrubbed his voice clean for mass appeal; this guy was from somewhere. And this was a guy who went for it, full tilt, with everything he sang.


Skid Row by Skid Row
Released: January 24, 1989 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Michael Wagener
Recorded: Royal Recorders in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Big Guns
Sweet Little Sister
Can’t Stand The Heartache
Piece Of Me
18 And Life
Rattlesnake Shake
Youth Gone Wild
Here I Am
Makin’ A Mess
I Remember You
Midnight/Tornado
Sebastian Bach – Lead Vocals
Scotti Hill – Guitars, Vocals
Dave Sabo – Guitars, Vocals
Rachel Bolan – Bass, Vocals
Rob Affuso – Drums, Percussion
 
Skid Row

 

Though never released as a single, “Here I Am” may offer one of the best examples of Sebastian Bach’s stylistic range, and of Skid Row’s potential. Musically, the song doesn’t exactly break down barriers of rhythm and arrangement—but it sure is fun. Hinged on aggressive guitars that screech occasionally toward dog-whistle heights, the music doesn’t bother ebbing or tapering; it stays loud and proud until inter-track silence falls.

As for Sebastian? He growls and he throws out low-tone vocal punches. On choruses, he aims for the back-most benches of the stadium bleachers. The way he trills about “her German cigarettes” exemplifies the happy medium between drama and shtick, as does the jump-roping beat of his ensuing “no-no-no.” True, this vocal quirk may not be such a different beast from Axl Rose bringing the world to its “shun n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n knees” in GNR’s “Welcome to the Jungle” from their ’87 album Appetite for Destruction. But Sebastian doesn’t just master the sexy/slapstick stutter or just theatrically accentuate his rs. Or just slingshot from low-lows to seraphic-highs. He packages the full suite in a way that feels effortless. His voice, in fact, can create the impression of a feline when catnip’s being tossed around the room—free, fast, moody, everywhere at once.

Skid Row in 1989

Also comprised, at the time, of bassist Rachel Bolan, guitarists Scotti Hill and Dave Sabo, and drummer Rob Affuso, Skid Row recorded their first album in Geneva, Wisconsin. Under the banner of Atlantic Records, they worked with producer Michael Wagener, also notable for his work with Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Megadeth. The auspicious debut would reach number six on the Billboard 200 and earn 5× platinum certification by the RIAA. Of the album’s four singles, “18 and Life” became the band’s most popular, reaching number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

After a nine-year run, Sebastian Bach parted ways with Skid Row in 1996. That he went on to perform in Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway along with The Rocky Picture Horror Show — and that, to fresh generation of fans, he will forever be Gil from the band Hep Alien on Gilmore Girls — should come as no surprise. The same theatrical acumen that helped him elevate Skid Row from the midlist made (and make) him an all-around great performer. Skid Row is still together today, now with Rob Hammersmith on drums and ZP Theart leading the vocals. Check out their latest music, outrageous fonts, and tour schedule on thier official website.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.
 

Mutations by Beck

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Mutations by BeckFor his sixth studio album, Beck and company decided to move in a decidedly non-commercial direction. The result is the lo-fi, psychedelic-oriented potpourri of Mutations. Released in late 1998, the songs on this album are masterfully composed to appear simple and straightforward at first, but reveal more sonic depth upon subsequent listens. Despite being less commercially successful than previous records, the album reached the Top 20 in the US and has gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide.

Beck’s previous album, 1996’s Odelay, was a commercial breakthrough as a fine blend of diverse genres such as country, blues, rap, jazz and rock with a methodical, “cut-and-paste” type method of production. The ensuing aftermath of success saw the normally reclusive artist land a Grammy nomination along with appearances on mainstream television. With this sudden rise, a proper strategy for a follow-up had less time to mature.

Entering the sessions for Mutations in Los Angeles, Beck and his touring band recorded over a dozen songs in two weeks with producer Nigel Godrich. In contrast to the previous album’s production, much of this captured the performance of the musicians live as they recorded with heavy use of acoustic guitars, keyboards and strings.


Mutations by Beck
Released: November 22, 1998 (DCG)
Produced by: Beck Hansen & Nigel Godrich
Recorded: Los Angeles, March–April 1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Cold Brains
Nobody’s Fault but My Own
Lazy Flies
Canceled Check
We Live Again
Tropicalia
Dead Melodies
Bottle of Blues
O Maria
Sing It Again
Static
Beck Hansen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Percussion
Smokey Hormel – Guitars, Vocals
Roger Manning – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Justin Meldal-Johnsen – Bass, Vocals
Joey Waronker – Drums, PercussionMutations by Beck

The opening track and single release “Cold Brains” features some oddly poetic lyrics which Beck compared to the humorous side of Leonard Cohen with a musical vibe that is “like country music on the moon”. “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” was another single release which went on to become one of the most beloved songs in the artist’s library as it builds from a sparse setting into a rich orchestral arrangement.

The upbeat and pulsing “Lazy Flies” follows, leading to a break for the Western flavored tune “Canceled Check” and the harpsichord laden “We Live Again”. The album’s third single, “Tropicalia” was inspired by world music, especially music from Brazil. The song was written by Beck while riding on a tour bus.

Beck

As the album progresses it features many lesser known tracks which continue to touch on diverse musical areas. “Dead Melodies” is an acoustic ballad with subtle backing vocals, “Bottle Of Blues” lives up to its title’s promise, “O Maria” features a piano-driven swing, while “Sing It Again” and “Static” each feature a subtle musical landscape. The most interesting track of the latter album is “Diamond Bollocks”, a track with many twists and turns while maintaining a catchy groove and consistent, moderate beat. The album then concludes with the minimalist “Runners Dial Zero”.

Mutations was originally intended to be released by the indie label Bong Load Records. However, after the executives at Beck’s major label, Geffen, heard the finished product they reneged on their permission to let the smaller label release the record. This led to years of litigation between the artist and label over this album which eventually won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall & Oates

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Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and OatesFor all the success that this Philadelphia-based duo would experience later on in their career, Daryl Hall and John Oates struggled to find a commercial footing early on. That’s not to say that they didn’t produce interesting and creative music as demonstrated brilliantly on their second album, Abandoned Luncheonette, released in late 1973. Despite only reaching #33 on the album charts during its initial run, this album slowly grew in stature and would finally reach platinum-selling status about three decades after its release.

The duo first met in 1967 while each was leading a separate group during a band competition. They later discovered that they had common musical interests and that both attended Temple University. The Hall & Oates musical duo was officially formed in 1970, with a recording contract at Atlantic Records. Their debut album, Whole Oates, was produced by Arif Mardin and released in November 1972 but failed to have any commercial success.

For Abandoned Luncheonette, the group and production team moved from from Philadelphia to New York where their disparate influences of folk, rock and soul were refined with the help of expert session players to forge the album’s musical tapestry as well as the group’s signature sound for the next decade. Much like on their album, the compositions and to a lesser extent lead vocals are split between the two with Hall & Oates penning just a few co-written songs.


Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and Oates
Released: November 3, 1973 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Arif Mardin
Recorded: Atlantic Studios and Advantage Sound Studios, New York City, 1973
Side One Side Two
When The Morning Comes
Had I Known You Better Then
Las Vegas Turnaround (Stewardess Song)
She’s Gone
I’m Just A Kid
Abandoned Luncheonette
Lady Rain
Laughing Boy
Everytime I Look At You
Primary Musicians
Daryl Hall – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
John Oates – Guitars, Vocals
Chris Bond – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Gelfand – Bass
Bernard Purdie – Drums, Percussion

The album begin’s with Hall’s “When the Morning Comes”, a subtle acoustic reggae beat sprinkled with a cool mellotron by Chris Bond . It allows plenty of room for Hall’s vocals to expand through his generous range. Rhythmically, the song is kept moving by the drums of the legendary Bernard Purdie. Oats provides his initial composition with “Had I Known You Better Then”, a folk singer/songwriter type song with just a hint of the rock n’ soul sound driven by a slight electric piano by Hall. “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)” has a fine, unique musical groove, highlighted by the saxophone lead of Joe Farrell and the main lyrical subject appears to be Hall’s girlfriend Sara Allen, the later subject of the 1976 hit song “Sara Smile”.

Another future hit for the duo is the fantastic “She’s Gone”, the true classic song from album. With a building arrangement starting with Steve Gelfand‘s bass and the subtle soul piano. A true duet, the atmosphere continues building atmosphere through its duration with horns introducing the strong outro section. Although released in 1974 as a single, it wouldn’t chart until it was re-released two years later, when it became a Top Ten hit in 1976. “I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)” revisits the somewhat tacky acoustic folk/rock by Oates, albeit with good harmonies throughout and an interesting use of keyboards.

Hall and Oates, 1973

The album’s title song commences the original side two, as a nostalgic storyteller suite interesting arrangement of piano, horns and further orchestration. “Abandoned Luncheonette” rapidly shifts a few times in style and shift, expressing the past moments of the now defunct location. “Lady Rain” is a funky folk tune with good combined vocals and an interesting dark string arrangement and bluesy guitar licks by Hugh McCracken, while the simple ballad “Laughing Boy” features Hall solo on piano and vocals and just some very subtle orchestration, providing a mood which sounds like it would fit better in a thematic or concept album. The extended closer
“Everytime I Look At You” starts as an upbeat funk/rocker with a heavy guitar and bass presence that make this heavier than anything else on this album. Hall provides an excellent guitar lead before Hall’s climatic vocal part followed by and unexpected outro of banjo and fiddle to an escalating tempo to finish the album.

Both Hall & Oates have allegedly cited Abandoned Luncheonette as their favorite album in their catalog. The duo released their third album, War Babies, in 1974 before moving on to RCA Records and much success in subsequent years.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Infidels by Bob Dylan

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Infidels by Bob DylanIn 1983, Bob Dylan released his studio album, Infidels. With this, Dylan received his highest critical and commercial success in nearly a decade. Still, through time, Infidels received criticism for not including some classic tracks like “Foot of Pride”, “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” and “Blind Willie McTell”, which were both recorded for this album but ultimately omitted. The latter of these would not be released until an outtakes album in 1991 but has come to be considered a true classic in Dylan’s expansive portfolio.

Late in the 1970s, Dylan became an evangelical Christian and, after dedicating three months of discipleship, he decided to release a trilogy of Gospel influenced music. Slow Train Coming (1979) was well-received critically, won Dylan a Grammy award for the song “Gotta Serve Somebody”, and marked his first work with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. The subsequent albums Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) were less regarded by critics and fans.

Co-produced by Knofler, Infidels was seen as a return to Dylan’s secular music roots. He initially wanted to self-produce the album but capitulated due to his lack of knowledge of emerging recording technology. Dylan had spoken with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Elvis Costello about producing this album before hiring Knopfler.

 


Infidels by Bob Dylan
Released: October 27, 1983 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan
Recorded: The Power Station, New York City, April-May 1983
Side One Side Two
Jokerman
Sweetheart Like You
Neighborhood Bully
License to Kill
Man of Peace
Union Sundown
I and I
Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Mark Knopfler – Guitars
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Alan Clark – Piano, Keyboards
Robbie Shakespeare – Bass
Sly Dunbar – Drums, Percussion

 

The album begins with its strongest tune, “Jokerman”, which is musically led by Robbie Shakespeare‘s thumping bass and the subtle duo guitars of Knopfler and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. Meanwhile, Dylan provides potent lyrics and great melody and, although very repetitive, the song has much forward motion due to the increasing vocal intensity as well as the subtle building of musical arrangement and fine harmonica leads late in the song. Released as a single in 1984, “Jokerman” simultaneously spawned Dylan’s MTV-era music video. “Sweetheart Like You” follows as a rather standard ballad with a good hook. Knofler’s influence is very evident in its arrangement which also features keyboardist Alan Clark.

Much of the material on Infidels has a solid rock or pop arrangement, displaying how far musically Dylan had strayed from the folk or roots based music he proliferated in the 1960s while still touching on the topical issues of the day. “Neighborhood Bully” has a new wave edge with a bit of Southern-style guitar slide while lyrically using sarcasm to defend Israel’s right to exist. “License to Kill” closes the first side as a slow and steady rocker with plenty of twangy and guitar motion with lyrics that address man’s relationship to the environment.

Bob Dylan in 1983

The surprising rock arrangements continue into the second side with the layered electric guitar riffs, Hammond organ of “Man of Peace” and the crisp rocker “Union Sundown”, with Clark providing some nice rocking piano in mix and guest Clydie King adding some backing vocals. “I and I” is an interesting tune with subtle verses and more forceful choruses, making it perhaps the best song on the album’s second side. The album concludes with the pleasant, upbeat ballad, “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”, a purely traditional love song.

A gold selling record, Infidels Reach the Top 20 in the US and the Top 10 in the UK. This achievement would mark the artist’s best success in the decade of the 1980s up until the 1989 release of the classic Oh Mercy.

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1983 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.

 

Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead

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Wake of the Flood by Grateful DeadThe Grateful Dead‘s long awaited sixth studio album, Wake of the Flood, marked a new era for the California band. Their first studio album in nearly three years, this was the first album on their independent Grateful Dead Records label as well as the first to feature the couple Keith Godchaux on piano and keyboards and Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals. This seven track album features compositions which draw from a blend of influences, ranging from the roots genres of country, folk and ragtime to a seventies modern fusion of funk and jazz rock.

In 1970, the Grateful Dead released two critically acclaimed studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, where they scaled back their sound with heavy folk and country influences. Following this breakthrough success, the band did extensive worldwide touring and would release three live albums in three years – Grateful Dead in 1971, Europe ’72 in 1972, and Bear’s Choice in 1973. Keith Godchaux joined the group in 1971 as a pianist alongside founding keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, when Pigpen was moved exclusively to Hammond B3 organ at the time. In 1972, McKernan’s health deteriorated, leaving him unable tour, and  ultimately lose his life in March 1973 due to complications from liver damage. Percussionist Micky Hart also temporarily left the band during this era, leaving drummer Bill Kreutzmann as the sole member behind the skins.

In August 1973, the Grateful Dead took a break from touring to record studio versions of new songs which had been in live rotation. The band chose to record Wake of the Flood at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, near their Bay area home base. The band self produced the album along with help from staff engineers and recorded everything is less than two weeks.


Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead
Released: October 15, 1973 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: The Grateful Dead
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, August, 1973
Side One Side Two
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Row Jimmy
Stella Blue
Here Comes Sunshine
Eyes of the World
Weather Report Suite
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

Sonically, Wake of the Flood moves from very simple to more complex as the album moves along. The opening “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” has a real loose, live feel as a down-home bluegrass track featuring the fiddle of guest Vassar Clements throughout. Jerry Garcia‘s lead vocals are somewhat low in the mix of this track which likely got its title as a play on “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champs”, a mid-sixties bluegrass group started by Garcia, McKernan and guitarist Bob Weir. “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” introduces Keith Godchaux to the listening audience as lead vocalist and co-writer with lyricist Robert Hunter. The first single from this album, this song has some strong melodic ideas and harmonies which are not completely formed on this recording.

Garcia’s complex and rhythmic “Row Jimmy” is the first sonically satisfying song on the album as a ballad accented with clavichord and percussion to complement the usual fine bass by Phil Lesh along with dual guitar licks. The exquisite “Stella Blue” is the best showcase of Garcia’s emotional vocals and is an overall well produced and tight ballad with an original and beautiful vibe with Hunter’s lyrics telling a story of lost love and sadness.

Grateful Dead in 1973

The album’s second side starts with the song that gives album its title. “Here Comes Sunshine” features another rich musical mix with an optimistic story of better days to come. The funky track “Eyes of the World” furthers the group’s sonic advancement into the fine mixes which they would display later in the 1970s, with great chord progressions, rudiments, rhythms and lead guitar. This leads to the album closer, Weir’s fantastic, three part “Weather Report Suite”, which showcases incredible, layered guitars and a smoothly put together and exquisitely produced jazz-influenced musical journey throughout. The “Prelude” section is an acoustic instrumental with slowly building rhythmic accompaniment, leading to “Part I”, featuring lyrics by guest Eric Andersen. The song addresses the seasons, and their relationship to the narrator’s state of mind. “Part II (Let it Grow)” feature’s Weir’s longtime lyrical partner John Perry Barlow and is the most upbeat part of the suite with music is perfectly laid out with various elements, including rich horns and a closing dual sax and harmonica lead, all making for a fine closing of this album.

Reaching the Top 20, Wake of the Flood fared better on the pop charts than any previous studio album. The Grateful Dead Records did not last all that long, collapsing in 1976, which resulted in this album all but disappearing from the marketplace for about a dozen years until it was issued on CD in the late 1980s.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.